Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Media: Connections or the lack of them

During COVID-19, what counts as a bomb? RESPECT has made 18 million worldwide in ticket sales since August 12th and we think it can at least be called a disappointment. What happened?

The answer can be found online at AMAZON where you can rent the film while it's still in theaters. Jennifer Hudson gives an amazing performance. But it's just not a movie.


If that sounds harsh, sorry. RESPECT is 2021's second Aretha project. GENIUS ARETHA was the earlier project, a dramatic mini-series. It probably hurt ticket sales for RESPECT. It's natural for dueling projects to undercut one another -- Carroll Baker's HARLOW was undercut by Carol Lynley's HARLOW (or vice versa) in 1965. But GENIUS ARETHA also put fans in a spot. Some of Aretha's family very vocally objected to the mini-series. Do you honor the wishes of the survivors?

RESPECT appears to have done just that and, as a result, there's no movie there. A camera, a director and actors don't make for a movie. "It starts on the page," as too many performers have noted at too many Academy Award presentations. And, sadly, RESPECT dies on the page.

Aretha had a very event-filled life and there is more than enough there If you were going to be honest.

Emphasizing: If you were going to be honest.

But RESPECT isn't honest. Not about Aretha's life before Ted Williams, not about her life after the divorce from Ted White.

It's not even right about her album sales.

Aretha's best selling album is not AMAZING GRACE.

It was once her best selling. It's long since been surpassed by several hits collections.

And AMAZING GRACE did not sale two million copies in the US as a title across the screen insists.

Yes, it was eventually certified double platinum in the US and, yes, that generally means two million sold . . . if you're a single album. It was a double disc. Does no one understand the difference? (A double disc album certified double platinum sold one million units of a double album.) It's a shock that the people behind RESPECT didn't understand the difference. If they want to argue that WIKIPEDIA was their source, we'll refer them to various high school teachers who have spent years advising students that WIKIPEDIA is not a reliable source -- just a starting point. And to be absolutely clear, it didn't sell a million copies -- it shipped a million. At the time of AMAZING GRACE's release and its initial sales, certifications and chart positions were based on shipping and not on sales. (This was the pre-SoundScan era or, if you prefer, the pre-bar code era.)

The film is one shock after another but it's never a surprise since the filmmakers know so damn little --including what constitutes a film -- as opposed to a TV project.

As a TV project, RESPECT would have been fine. But it's really too much to ask people to pay for this pedestrian trip down faux memory lane.

It also raises -- or should -- questions about upcoming biopics. For example, Cher is planning to do a movie about her life.

The natural ending to that is either when Sonny & Cher break up or 1997 when Sonny passes and Cher's topping the charts around the world with "Believe." Should Cher get inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and she should be inducted) before the film is made, that could be an ending. You need an ending that makes people feel like there was a point to sitting through the film. RESPECT really has no point.

Fame alone does not constitute a film.

In 1980, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER was released and it was a big success -- grossing over $67 million in ticket sales and featuring an Academy Award winning performance from Sissy Spacek -- it garnered six other nominations including Best Picture. But this wasn't just something tossed on the screen. The material was shaped based upon Loretta Lynn's already successful autobiography of the same name. The Michael Apted film dealt in clear themes that were easily covered in a trailer. RESPECT's trailer doesn't sell the film, it coasts on Aretha's legend.

Sissy Spacek also won a Golden Globe for her performance in the film as did Beverly D'Angelo for her performance in the supporting role of Patsy Cline. Five years later, SWEET DREAMS (a Pasty Cline biography film) struggled to make back its shooting budget despite having an amazing lead performance from Jessica Lange. Jessica's Pasty, like Jennifer's Aretha, deserved a better film or an actual film. The material wasn't shaped. The themes were weak. Apparently, we were supposed to celebrate the heat between Lange's Patsy and Ed Harris' Charlie. But while the actors shared real chemistry, the script never gave them the scenes they needed to make this a romantic rollercoaster.

Annette Bening really doesn't give a false performance. She's sure footed and rooted in every role. But trailers can trip you up. We were reminded of that when we recently viewed 2019's GEORGETOWN again. She delivers an amazing performance but the film itself is satisfying in ways that the brief trailers didn't get into. They made it appear that the film was a rehash of 2007's THE WALKER. THE WALKER's a wonderful film but we doubt viewers wanted to see it again. Or take POMS, Diane Keaton's touching comedy. Why couldn't the trailers have made clear that Diane Keaton's character is dying? It would have helped some of the nasty remarks be set aside -- we're referring to remarks made by people in the industry and made publicly. A film starring a woman is already a target. Make it a woman "of a certain age" and that's only more so. But when other actresses began mocking the film ahead of its release . . . (Click here for our take on POMS.)

We've been dismissive of 'trailer films' arguing that the desire to have a film that can be easily summarized by a brief trailer was leading to simplistic films. However, we've realized our position was a bit off. While a film shouldn't have to be easily summarized in a trailer, a them or two should be clear enough that the film can be marketed to an audience. And if you don't have any themes that resonate, why are you making the film? We thought of that when watching 2020's HALF BROTHERS, a comedy that deals with many important issues including immigration.  It's a comedy and that's about the only thing the official trailer got across.  The trailer didn't even get it right that their mutual father walked out on only one of them.  More work needs to be done in marketing films because too many are poorly served by previews that try to trick the audience (POMS) but it's equally true that a lot of films being made have no relatable themes and/or when they do, the film refuses to emphasize it.  Films are all about connections and when you're telling the story of a legend like Aretha and you can't hold the audience's attention, maybe you shouldn't be directing films or writing screenplays?








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